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Published: Saturday, 10/15/2005

McCain's calumny

SEN. John McCain, who says he's going to run for president in 2008, does himself no favors by touting campaign finance reform while standing on the same stage with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has morphed from reformer into the king of special interests.

Back in 2001, the Arizona Republican paid a visit to the Golden State to castigate as "a disgrace" $26 million in fund-raising by Mr. Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Gray Davis.

As everyone knows, Mr. Schwarzenegger prevailed in a 2003 recall election, framed largely on the issue of defeating special interests allegedly favored by Mr. Davis. What is less well known outside California is that Mr. Schwarzenegger, as governor, proceeded with lightning speed to raise $76 million, from a different set of special interests.

But there was Senator McCain the other day in Oakland, Calif., before Republican and chamber of commerce faithful, pushing a series of state ballot issues and claiming that Mr. Schwarzenegger has "principle, he's got determination, and he's got guts to take on the special interests."

While such rhetoric might be chalked up to political loyalty, Senator McCain can only invite unfavorable attention to his contradictions and inconsistency as he ramps up a drive for the White House.

For him to defend his endorsement of Mr. Schwarzenegger on the flimsy premise that the governor has "played by the rules of the game" in amassing huge sums from special interests is the height of hypocrisy. It's the rules that have loopholes and must be changed.

As the sponsor of landmark federal campaign finance reform, Senator McCain must set a better example. He should go out of his way to support only candidates who follow the spirit of the law, not just the letter.

He will go further as a presidential candidate if he is a model of consistency rather than a poster boy for politics as usual.

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